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11/29/16: No Rate Increase in 2017!

Board to Restructure Rates to Promote Long-Term Vision

In a landscape of rising energy costs, the San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) Board of Directors has announced that it will not need to collect more revenue from its members in 2017.  Earlier in 2016, SMPA received notice that its wholesale rates were going to go up.  “That was no surprise,” said SMPA General Manager and CEO, Brad Zaporski.  “We knew we needed to look at our budget to see how much of the increase we could absorb before passing it on to our members.”  

Under Zaporski’s direction, SMPA managers scrutinized the proposed 2017 budget to find ways to protect members from the wholesale increase.  “We went through the budget line by line,” said Zaporski.  “We ultimately found that we could absorb the entire 4.2% increase without having to pass on any increase to the members.”
But the discussion of rates also brought up another issue that has been on the minds of SMPA Board and staff members for a number of years.  

Like most other co-ops, the San Miguel Power monthly bill is composed of two separate charges: The Access charge, which is a fixed amount that every member pays, regardless of their energy use, and an Energy Rate which is the price per kiloWatt-hour (kWh) of energy used.

A comparison of SMPA’s access charge and energy rate to those of some of the neighboring co-ops reveals that SMPA’s energy rate is one of the highest, while its access charge is extremely low.  “That puts us in the position of having to sell a lot of energy in order to make our revenue requirements,” said Zaporski.  “It’s a relatively risky position, from a business standpoint, and it creates a disincentive for us to help our members in their efforts to be energy-efficient.  That runs counter to our mission and—really—everything we are as a cooperative.”

Before the SMPA Board of Directors held their monthly meeting, in Ridgway on November 29, they listened to members at a formal Rate Hearing.  Taking these and other comments into consideration, the Board adopted a new rate structure that re-balances the ratio of revenues collected from access charges and energy rates.  This move will not only cover the increased costs of wholesale power and improve the financial stability of the cooperative, but it does so in a “revenue-neutral” way, thereby protecting the members from increased costs next year.


11/14/16: SMPA to Hold Rate Hearing on Proposed 2017 Rate Structure

On November 29, the San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) Board of Directors will hold their monthly meeting, in Ridgway, at which it is expected that they will decide whether to adopt a proposed rate structure for 2017.  Earlier this year, SMPA received notice that its wholesale power rate would increase by 4.2%.  Since then, the SMPA Board has been considering recommendations on how to cover the increased revenue requirement while re-balancing SMPA’s member access charge and energy rate.  Both of these considerations are included in the proposal.  Overall, this proposal would draw no more revenue from the membership than what was drawn in 2016.

As a member-owned cooperative, SMPA values the input of its consumers.  The board of directors invites members to attend a special rate hearing before their board meeting on the 29th at 9:30 AM at the SMPA office in Ridgway.  Members interested in attending the hearing are encouraged to RSVP at 970-626-5549.  Members may also view a comparison between the current and proposed rate structures at 2017 Proposed Rate Structure.



10/10/16: SMPA to Hold Public Informational Meetings on Wholesale Power Rate Increase & Review of SMPA Access Charge

San Miguel Power Association Inc. will be holding three public meetings to discuss the impact of a recent wholesale rate increase of 4.2% beginning in 2017.

The increase will impact the largest segment of SMPA’s expenses.  (The cost of wholesale power accounts for more than 56% of the total.)  Other costs are increasing as well.  Under the circumstances, an increase in revenue is certainly needed in order for the cooperative to continue operating safely and to continue its mission of providing safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible energy in one of the most geographically challenging regions in the country.

Due to this need, the democratically-elected Board sought to analyze the current billing rates and fees in order to determine the most fair and practical way to increase revenues to cover costs.  This led the Board to retain the services of Power System Engineering, Inc., (PSE) one of the industry’s most respected consulting firms.

PSE provided a cost of service study that addressed three different elements of the power bill: 1) the access charge, which every member must pay regardless of how much energy they use, 2) the energy rate, which is charged for every kiloWatt-hour (kWh) they use and 3) the demand rate which only impacts members who fit a certain load profile. (See→Account Services→ Understanding Your Bill for a more detailed explanation.)

The study highlighted the fact that SMPA’s current access charge of $16.00/mo. is not enough to cover the fixed costs that it is supposed to cover.  Furthermore, the Board noted that while SMPA’s energy charge is one of the highest in the western slope, its access charge is one of the lowest.  These only a few of the reasons that the Board is considering an increase to the access charge.

Of course the Board and staff of SMPA would not be considering increasing the burden on the membership without looking internally first.  Through attrition, automation and promoting from within, the management has been able to pear down the size of SMPA from 63 employees in 2010 to just 53 employees today.  SMPA is also aggregating purchases, utilizing local power generation, and extending the life of its existing assets in order to save money and relieve upward pressure on monthly electric bills.

SMPA will be giving more details and taking member feedback at three public meetings this month: The first meeting will be at the Wilkinson Library in Telluride on Monday, October 17.  The next will be at the Ouray School Multi-purpose room on Tuesday, October 18 and the final meeting will be at the Naturita Public Library on Wednesday, October 19.  All meetings will be from 6 pm to 8 pm.  All SMPA members are invited to attend, hear more and to provide feedback.

San Miguel Power Association, Inc. is a member-owned, locally-controlled rural electric cooperative with offices in Nucla and Ridgway, Colo. It is the mission of San Miguel Power Association to demonstrate corporate responsibility and community service while providing our members safe, reliable, cost effective and environmentally responsible electrical service. SMPA serves approximately 9,600 members and 13,300 meters and supports local communities with $300,000 annually in property taxes and $400,000 in energy efficiency and renewable energy rebates. SMPA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

9/01/16: Wholesale Rates Prompt Review of SMPA Access Charge

It is easy to take for granted our ready access to affordable, reliable electricity which enables so many of the modern systems we rely upon.  Surprisingly, the cost of electricity has risen relatively slowly. For example, since 1936, the average cost of a loaf of bread has increased by about 1.5¢ per year.  The cost of a kilowatt hour of the electricity needed to bake that bread has risen by only about 1¢ per decade!

While electricity remains an exceptional value in today’s modern life, the upward pressure on electric rates is still real – especially in recent years.  Recently, Tri-State Generation and Transmission (Tri-State), the wholesale power cooperative that provides electricity to your local electric utility, San Miguel Power Association (SMPA), announced an increase in its rates.

The increase is in response to the rising costs of the materials and services needed to generate and transmit energy across vast distances.  Also, generation and transmission companies across the nation have seen substantial cost increases due to both state and federal regulatory compliance.

Naturally, the increase in Tri-State’s rates will impact SMPA.  Wholesale power accounts for over 60% of SMPA’s monthly expenses, so when an increase occurs, the SMPA Board of directors must decide how to cover the cost.  SMPA is a not-for-profit enterprise and one of its primary purposes is to keep electricity affordable for its members.  Because of this, the SMPA board always looks for ways to absorb wholesale rate increases before passing on the cost to the members.

One of the ways to absorb costs is to do more with less.  Throughout our history, SMPA has been leveraging technology and training to serve a growing membership with relatively few employees.

Another way to keep members’ bills lower is to help them use electricity more efficiently.  From rebate offers, to energy audits for schools and businesses to an innovative program that helps our towns switch to all LED streetlights, SMPA constantly looks for ways to help members save money.

Even with cost-saving measures in place, there comes a time when the Board of Directors must consider passing through an increase in order to keep the company solvent in the current economic landscape.  One of the considerations is how such an increase would manifest on the SMPA bill.  Rate-making is a very involved science and the Board seeks expert help when deciding how to make a change.  The Board is currently reviewing the recommendations of a recent cost-of-service study.

The study focused on the two components of the utility bill: 1) the energy rate and 2) the access charge.  The energy rate is the cost per kilowatt hour (kWh) that members pay for the electricity they use.  The access charge covers SMPA’s fixed costs of providing electrical service, such as the overall cost of owning, operating and maintaining the electric distribution system, along with metering, bill processing, taxes, insurance, etc.

The analysis highlighted the fact that the current access fee is insufficient to cover SMPA’s fixed costs.  The Board also noted that, compared to other neighboring co-ops, SMPA’s access charge is currently well below average.  For these reasons, the SMPA Board is considering raising the access charge in order to bring the bill back into balance and ensure that all members pay their fair share of the fixed costs.

Like all cooperatives, SMPA is governed by the principle of democratic member control.  Directors of SMPA’s Board are elected by you, the members, in order to represent your interests.  When difficult decisions need to be made, the cooperative way is to be as transparent as possible.  To that end, the Board is hosting three public meetings to provide information and answer questions from the membership.  All SMPA members are invited.  The meetings will be held at 6 pm on October 17th at Wilkinson Library in Telluride, October 18th at the Ouray School in Ouray and on October 19th at the Naturita Public Library in Naturita.  Light refreshments will be available, and SMPA Board and staff representatives will be on hand to address whatever questions attendees may have.

7/19/16: 2016 SMPA Pays Over $1 Million in Member Dividends Back to Members

At its June meeting, the San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) Board of Directors elected to return member dividends (also called “capital credits”) to the membership in the amount of $1 million.  An additional $214,000 from SMPA’s wholesale power provider, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, will be distributed as well.

Electric co-ops like Tri-State and SMPA operate at cost— collecting enough revenue to run and expand the business but with no need to raise rates to generate profits for shareholders. When the co-op has money left over, it’s allocated back to the members as member dividends.

“This is one of the practices that sets cooperative utilities apart from their for-profit counterparts,” said SMPA board president, Rube Felicelli.  “It demonstrates that this is truly a member-owned business.”  
One of the duties of the Board of Directors is to gauge the cooperative’s financial position, and to determine the best time to pay out member dividends.  Based upon SMPA’s current financial and cash position, the Board has determined that the time is now.

Allocations less than $10 are placed into a hold account until the amount reaches $10.  Members who are due $10 or more in member dividends will receive a check in the mail next month.
Members are encouraged to check the mail for these member dividends, and to continue to participate in the electric cooperative they own:  San Miguel Power Association.


6/10/16: 2016 Board Election Results

Garvey, Sibold Re-elected

Yesterday, San Miguel Power Association held its 77th Annual Meeting at its office in Nucla, CO.  The meeting concluded with the reading of election results for its District No. 1 and District No. 4 board director elections.

In District No. 1, challenger, Tom Loczy received 160 votes while incumbent, Doylene Garvey received 227.  Garvey was declared the winner and will resume her directorship for another four-year term.

In District No. 4, incumbent, Jack Sibold received 118 votes, while challenger, Toby Brown received 73.  Sibold will continue as the District No. 4 board representative.

San Miguel Power Association, Inc. is a member-owned, locally-controlled rural electric cooperative with offices in Nucla and Ridgway, Colo. It is the mission of San Miguel Power Association to demonstrate corporate responsibility and community service while providing our members safe, reliable, cost effective and environmentally responsible electrical service. SMPA serves approximately 9,600 members and 14,000 meters and supports local communities with $300,000 annually in property taxes and $400,000 in energy efficiency and renewable energy rebates. SMPA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

6/6/16: Zaporski Named New CEO & General Manager of SMPA

Bradley W. Zaporski has been selected by the Board of Directors as the new Chief Executive Officer and General Manager (CEO/GM) for San Miguel Power Association (SMPA), Nucla, CO.

The SMPA Board of Directors has named Brad Zaporski, as its next CEO/GM.  He begins his new duties on June 6, 2016.  The CEO, appointed by the Board of Directors, serves as the top executive of SMPA and reports to a 7 member board of directors representing specific districts within its vast service territory in southwestern Colorado.

“I'm truly humbled for the trust the board members have placed in me and pleased to be given the opportunity to serve as the next CEO.  I look forward to continuing to work with the dedicated team of directors and employees that serve the member-owners.  There are many challenges ahead for the electric utility industry and particularly for electric distribution cooperatives and together we will continue to work for the benefit of our members in all that we do,” he replied.”

Zaporski replaces Jim Link who has served as interim CEO since the retirement of the former CEO Kevin Ritter last fall.  Jim Link has served with distinction for 20 years as SMPA’s general counsel and will continue in that role. 

 “The board selected Zaporski following a nationwide search conducted over many months. The board takes its fiduciary responsibility very seriously and interviewed numerous highly qualified candidates – ultimately selecting Zaporski.  I am very proud of the commitment from the full board in doing its due diligence on behalf of the membership,” said President Felicelli.

Zaporski is committed to the electric cooperative business model and its principles and is dedicated to serving the membership.  He has served on numerous boards and committees representing the cooperative and is highly respected for his contributions to the electric cooperative program in Colorado.

His experience and educational background have prepared him well for his new role as CEO.  He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, WI; a Masters of Applied Science in Energy Policy from the University of Denver, CO, and is a graduate of the NRECA Management Intern Program.

During his career, he has served in a leadership role in various professional associations and community service organizations in the SMPA service territory.  He enjoys volunteering and states:  “I could not be happier among the beautiful landscapes and wonderful people of our service territory.  It has been a pleasure to work with the people of SMPA and I am truly honored to serve SMPA as its new General Manager.”

5/31/16: San Miguel Power Annual Meeting, June 9, Nucla, CO

San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) will hold its 77th Annual Meeting of Members at its Nucla Office (170 W 10th Ave, Nucla, Colorado) on Thursday, June 9th.  Member registration and voting for this year’s Board Elections will be held from 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm.  At 5:30, the polls will close and the business meeting will begin.  Dinner will be provided.

SMPA is a member-owned cooperative.  Anyone who pays an electric bill to SMPA is a member-owner, and is, therefore, eligible to vote for director representatives to sit on SMPA’s governing Board.  SMPA's service territory is divided into seven districts. Each district elects their director to serve a four-year term. Usually, two districts hold elections in a calendar year.  In 2016, the District No. 1 and No. 4 Board seats are up for election. 

In District No.1, which includes the West End of Montrose County, as well as Basin & Slick Rock, the candidates are Tom Loczy & Doylene Garvey.  In District No.4, which includes Colona, Log Hill, and areas surrounding Telluride, the candidates are Jack Sibold & Toby Brown.  Ballots have been mailed to members of these districts.  Mail-in ballots must be received by June 8th, or members may vote at the Annual Meeting (4:30 pm to 5:30 pm).  Mail-in votes may not be changed at the Annual Meeting.  Election results will be announced at the conclusion of the meeting.

SMPA's Annual Meeting of Members is one of the most important events for all members to attend. It is an opportunity for members of the cooperative to gather and review the activities of the association over the past year.   This year’s presentation will be accompanied by two additional features:

Colorado State Representative, Don Coram will speak.  Rep. Coram serves on the House Transportation and Energy Committee, and has fostered legislation in support of small hydroelectric generation within the state.  As an advocate of an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, Rep. Coram will bring a broad and informed perspective on energy issues.

Afterwards, SMPA’s wholesale power provider, Tri-State Generation and Transmission will take the stage and share their ideas on such topics as fuel mix, energy rates, and future plans for infrastructure and the changing industry.

But there will be more than just business at the SMPA Annual Meeting.  A family-friendly event, the Annual Meeting will host games, prizes and activities.  Among these attractions will be:  Bucket truck rides, the Energy Bike, on which participants can generate their own electricity, SMPA’s new electric vehicle, the “Lightning Bug,” and a fun solar energy game called “Jitter Critters.”  There will also be door prizes and every member in attendance will receive a $10 bill credit.

An election, valuable information, food and fun; they’re all reasons to attend the SMPA Annual Meeting, from 4:30 – 7 pm, on June 9th at the SMPA headquarters in Nucla, Colorado.


5/16/16: SMPA Board Director Election Ballots in the Mail

The San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) Board Election is going on now.  In SMPA district #1, which includes the West End of Montrose County, as well as Basin & Slick Rock, the candidates are Tom Loczy & Doylene Garvey.  In District #4, which includes Colona, Log Hill, and areas surrounding Telluride, the candidates are Jack Sibold & Toby Brown.

“Ballots have been mailed to members of these districts and they should be hitting mailboxes this week,” said SMPA Communications Executive, Alex Shelley.  Voters are advised to follow the voting instructions carefully and to return their ballots soon.  Mail-in ballots must be received by June 8th in order to be counted.  Members may also vote in person at the Annual Meeting.  Election results will be announced at the end.

This year’s Annual Meeting will be held at the SMPA office in Nucla and will include information about renewable energy, reliability projects and the future of the power industry.  “Since most of the energy we use comes from our wholesale power provider, Tri-State Generation and Transmission,” said Shelley, “many of our members are showing an interest in them.  So we invited Tri-State to the Annual Meeting, to share their thoughts and ideas with us.”

The presentation will also include remarks from Colorado State Representative, Don Coram.  “As a member of the Colorado House Transportation and Energy Committee, Mr. Coram will bring a broad and highly-informed perspective to the energy issues we face today,” said Shelley.  “We are honored to host him.”

While the meeting will include lots of vital information, there will also be room for some fun.  Some of the activities will include Solar energy games, a high-voltage safety demonstration, an “Energy Bike” on which riders can generate their own electricity.  Members will be delighted to meet “Power” the robot.  They can also sit behind the dashboard of the “Lightning Bug,” the student-re-built electric vehicle, or a real bucket truck used by linemen to keep the power flowing every day.  There will also be prizes, free dinner and a $10 bill credit toward members’ next power bill.

An election, great information and fun--it will all be at the SMPA Annual Meeting on June 9, at the SMPA Nucla office. (170 W. 10th Ave.)  Election polls are open from 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm and the meeting starts at 5:30 pm.


5/10/16: SMPA Announces 2016 Scholarship Recipients

Congratulations to this year’s San Miguel Power Association (SMPA), Tri-State, and Basin Electric scholarship recipients. SMPA is proud to award the following scholarships to deserving graduating seniors within the co-op’s service territory:

Norwood High School:
Braden Barkemeyer            SMPA $2000 Scholarship
Christa Kennedy                  SMPA $2000 Vocational Scholarship

Nucla High School:
Erin Staats                            SMPA $2000 Scholarship
Roxanne Ervin                     Tri-State $500 Scholarship

Ouray High School:
Hunter Clapsadl                   SMPA $2000 Scholarship
Nathaniel Fedel                   Tri-State $500 Scholarship

Ridgway High School:
Hasten Beamer                    SMPA $2000 Scholarship

Silverton High School:
Talitha Gallegos                   SMPA $2000 Scholarship

Telluride High School:
Abigail Segerstrom              SMPA $2000 Scholarship
Ebba Green                          Basin Electric $1000 Scholarship
Jack Plantz   SMPA Wes Perrin Memorial $2,500 4-Year Renewable Scholarship

“Every year we have an amazing group of students apply for our scholarships, and this year was no exception,” said SMPA Interim General Manager, Jim Link. “San Miguel Power sends out our thanks and appreciation to the parents and teachers in our service territory for their hard work shaping our future generations.”

SMPA awarded approximately $18,500 in scholarships this year to help local students pursue higher education. SMPA awarded one $2,000 SMPA scholarship to a graduating senior from each local high school, two $500 Tri-State scholarships, and one $1,000 Basin Electric Scholarship.  SMPA also gave out the final Wes Perrin Memorial Scholarship which is a $2,500 four-year renewable scholarship and, for the first time this year, SMPA granted a $2000 Vocational Scholarship, dedicated to students planning to pursue career training after high school.  The scholarships are awarded based on overall academic performance, community involvement, student need, and the students’ own writings.

 The scholarship recipients were selected from a blind evaluation by a volunteer committee. This year’s committee included Paul Paladino and Tina Carver of the Montrose Regional Library District, Toni Bowling of the Delta Montrose Technical College, Donna Justin of Colorado Mesa University Montrose Campus, Jon Gordon of the Center for Mental Health and Sara Plumhoff, of the Montrose Community Foundation. SMPA expresses our sincere thanks for these volunteers.

4/8/16: SMPA Ridgway Office Announces New Hours

In order to improve operational efficiency, San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) is changing its business hours.  As of May 1, 2016, the Ridgway office will be closed on Fridays and open from 7 am to 5:30 pm on Mondays, not including holidays.  After that, both SMPA offices (Nucla and Ridgway) will be on the same schedule: Monday - Thursday, 7 am to 5:30 pm. 

Live service over the phone will also be an option during these business hours.  Automated phone service and web account services are still available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

These automated services allow members to:
    • Report a power outage
    • Pay their bills
    • Access account information


3/29/16: Telluride Power Outage and Avian Protection

Since a brief power outage affecting Telluride, Mountain Village and surrounding areas was caused by a bird on Tuesday morning just before 8 am, some have questioned what measures the local power provider, San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) has in place to prevent incidents of this kind.

In fact, protective gear has been in place since a study, completed in 2014, recommended its installation at the Telluride substation to protect both the system and the wildlife that regularly comes into contact with it. This gear includes rubber coverings on power lines and substation buswork, as well as “bird guard” circular mesh designed to prevent animals from bridging the gap between the phases on power lines and the ground.

“We were a bit surprised to find that the outage was caused by a bird,” said SMPA Safety and Regulatory Compliance Coordinator and former Operations Manager, Paul Enstrom.  “We’ve had all that bird guard in place for several years, and never had a problem until now.”

Since a study conducted in the mid-nineties, SMPA has also made a standard practice of building power poles and infrastructure based upon industry-adopted “raptor-proof” specifications.  Although there are cases (like the instance this morning in Telluride) in which animals can cause a power outages, these protective measures are still deemed to be effective in most cases.  “Who knows how many times an outage has been prevented?” asked Enstrom.

After the outage at the Telluride substation was detected, SMPA line crews immediately responded, assessed the situation and conducted the repair.  Power was restored shortly before 9:30 am.


2/16/16: Telluride Power Outage Reveals Challenges, Heroism and Gratitude

At 3 pm on Saturday, February 13, an electric power pole in Illium Valley near an old church camp, was struck by a refrigerator-sized rock that tumbled from the canyon wall, approximately 800 feet above.  This cut power to most of the Telluride area, including parts of Mountain Village and outlying communities.  The areas to the south of the SMPA Sunshine Substation are served by a different section of the line. Therefore, areas such as Ophir and Ames did not lose power.

Crews were immediately dispatched to assess the situation.  The pole, which had supported a 69kV transmission line maintained by Tri-State Generation and Transmission (Tri-State) as well as an electric distribution line maintained by San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) was destroyed and would have to be replaced.

Tri-State and SMPA crews worked through the night clearing a path to the remote site and bringing the equipment needed to replace the downed pole.  Crews continued to work into the following morning, safely replacing the pole and re-installing the power lines and components.  At 1:20 pm on Sunday, February 14, electric service was restored to the Telluride region.

Teamwork played a big role in the repair. Since the Tri-State transmission line was above the distribution line, it had to be installed first.  “The Tri-State guys were on it,” said SMPA Journey Line Technician, Scott Davidson.  “They didn’t slow down, they didn’t rest and they didn’t stop.” 
As the SMPA distribution line was being transferred to the new pole, SMPA Linemen, Bart Reams and Johnathan Smith also showed their mettle.  “Because of the terrain, we couldn’t use the bucket truck to get to the new pole,” said Davidson, “so those guys had to get in the hooks, (used for pole climbing) and do the whole thing by hand.”

No one doubts that the events of this past weekend showed the heroism of the Tri-State and SMPA line crews, but some have questioned the vulnerability of the system in the first place.  It is true that the transmission line that was damaged over the weekend is the only line serving the affected areas.  They have no backup feed.  Due to the difficulty of installing new transmission lines in these areas, SMPA conceived of the Telluride Reliability Project (as mentioned in the membership in the August, 2015 newsletter).  The project proposes to utilize heavy distribution lines to serve as the redundant feed.  Designs for this project are near completion and will soon enter the permitting process.  Once completed, the redundant feed would allow the system to automatically respond to events like the falling rock, greatly reducing the power outage duration.

Throughout the experience, linemen from both Tri-State and SMPA received praise and support from the communities.  “Thank you!  For your hard work!!!” said Telluride local, Chris Johnson.   Resident, Mier McGinness Esch said “Thank you for all your hard work and effort, we appreciate it!! Hugs to all.”

SMPA Board Member, Jack Sibold also expressed praise.  “I am very proud to be associated with both the San Miguel Power Association linemen and the Tri State Generation and Transmission Company Linemen.  This appeared to be a daunting task and these folks were clearly up to it. Bravo!”

2/2/16: Community Solar to Compliment SMPA Efficiency Program
Income-Qualified Households to Benefit

San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) is one of five western slope cooperatives partnering with the Colorado Energy Office and Grid Colorado to expand community solar access to hard-working families throughout the state.  SMPA’s participation in this pilot program will not only allow consumers’ access to community solar and the benefits it brings, it will also enhance SMPA’s free home efficiency program, known as the SMPA I.Q. Weatherization Program.  Together, these income-qualified or “I.Q.” Programs will offer an unprecedented level of assistance to families struggling to pay their bills.

“SMPA has long been a leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy,” said SMPA Board President, Rube Felicelli.   “We are now making home efficiency upgrades and local renewable energy readily available to our lower income members through the SMPA ‘IQ’ or ‘income-qualified’ programs.  We are excited to join with our partners, Energy Outreach Colorado, the  Colorado Energy Office, Grid Alternatives and EcoAction Partners to reduce our carbon footprint  while reducing the  financial burden of high electrical bills on  local families in need.”

It is no secret that a well-insulated, tightly-sealed home with energy-efficient appliances is cheaper, safer, and more comfortable to rent or own than its leaky counterpart.  Unfortunately, many of the residents of inefficient homes are the very ones who can least afford to waste energy.   “We were looking for ways to help those having difficulty paying their bills.” said SMPA Member Services Manager, Brad Zaporski, “We were also aware of a strong desire within the membership to reduce our carbon footprint.  What we’ve been able to do, with help from our partners, is to combine the solutions to both of these problems into one program.”

For SMPA, free home weatherization is nothing new, but this is the first time community solar will further assist those households that get involved in the program.  A community solar array will provide convenient access to solar power for the participants, allowing them to save money by tapping into an abundant, local, renewable resource.

SMPA is still looking for community partners in bringing the I.Q. Solar program to fruition.  All community-building entities interested in reducing financial stress on our low-income neighbors are encouraged to contact SMPA and help bolster the program.

Neighbors helping neighbors is one of the fundamental principles of a cooperative system.  So it’s only natural that SMPA, a local electric cooperative, would offer programs providing home weatherization and solar power services to those in need, but what benefits are there for SMPA?  It’s simple: Inefficient homes will draw less energy from the grid once they are improved.  And solar panels that harvest energy from the sun will allow the utility to buy less energy up front, saving money and keeping it within the local economy.  While the I.Q. programs will provide definite benefits to their participants, the savings will also come back to the cooperative, which benefits all its members.  “Of course the additional benefit is that conserving energy and utilizing solar power both reduce stress on the natural environment that supports us all.”  Zaporski says.  “It’s great to be part of a community that works together to achieve a better future; that’s what cooperatives are all about.”


1/22/16: Renewables in the Mix

There’s certainly a buzz in rural circles these days about renewable power.  Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have already passed laws creating renewable portfolio standards, often called RPS for short, which require electric utilities and other retail suppliers of electricity to add a specific percentage of renewable energy to their power supply mix by a certain date.

But what exactly are renewables and why are governments so eager to incorporate them into America’s power supply?  The term “Renewable Energy” is defined by the International Energy Agency as “Energy derived from natural processes (e.g. sunlight and wind) that are replenished at a faster rate than they are consumed.” Solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, and some forms of biomass are common sources of renewable energy.  Two major advantages of renewable sources of energy are that they cannot get used up (within the foreseeable future) and that they produce energy without generating harmful byproducts or pollutants.  Of course, renewables also present challenges like intermittent generation and the additional expense of collecting and incorporating the electricity they produce.

Still, Rural America boasts a rich abundance of renewable resources and many believe that harvesting that potential will be worth the effort in the long term.  Because most renewable energy projects take root in rural America, electric co-ops like San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) are at the forefront of this new and exciting wave of generation technology. Currently, co-ops like us, who distribute power from wholesaler, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, incorporate an average of 5 percent more hydro and other renewable resources, than the industry as a whole. 

That power includes energy from Colorado-based federal and small hydro projects, a large scale wind farm, and even a hog methane biomass facility.  All of this energy feeds directly into the electronics and appliances in your home. But our inclusion of renewable energy doesn’t stop there.  SMPA also distributes power from five local renewable generating plants, including hydro units in Ouray, Coal Creek pass and Telluride as well as the 1-megawatt solar array in Paradox.  The power generated at these local facilities also contributes to the power you use every day.

Even though cooperatives are leading the nation in renewable energy, very few of them can claim a level of renewable inclusion that matches SMPA.  In fact, SMPA’s annual use of renewables beats both the nationwide average and the rural electric cooperative average.  As an SMPA member, you can take pride in this fact, but you don’t have to stop there. 

Through SMPA’s Green Blocks program, you can offset your own home’s non-renewable power use through the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), or if you are interested in supplementing your home’s energy supply directly, you may be interested in becoming a net-metered member.  SMPA will be there to help you with this too.  However you look at it, renewable energy sources serve an increasing need in our world today and SMPA is proud to be a part of it.


1/22/16: NOTABLES: How a Cat's Whisker Helped Four Western Towns Save Thousands 

The year was 1907.  British engineer and experimenter, Henry Joseph Round sat hunched over a small, sturdy device that resembled a teeter-totter with a worn rubber handle on one side and thin, curved filament on the other.  Although this device included no true organic parts, it had taken its name, the “cat’s-whisker detector,” from the appearance of that delicate, springy wire.  As Round finished scribbling his notes, he turned to the device and gently lifted the wire, placing a small crystal beneath it.

It might have been just another day at the lab, another in the long series of unremarkable experiments necessary to improve the prototype technologies of the day.  This day, Round was working on ways to improve the radio transmitter.  He wasn’t looking for what was about to happen next.  But as he took up his pen, straightened his glasses, and closed the switch, he saw it.  If he had glanced away a second earlier, he might have missed it, but he didn’t, and now he couldn’t ignore it.  It was right there, where the whisker brushed--so gently--against the crystal...  It was light!

History records that H. J. Round discovered the “electroluminescent effect,” a phenomenon in which excited electrons within a strong electric field, release energy in the form of “photons,” or light when passed over certain semiconductors, like Round’s silicon-carbide crystal.  The discovery would become the basis of the Light-Emitting Diode, or LED.

As a practical lighting source, the LED light was rather slow to develop, relative to its predecessors.  In the field of municipal street lighting, for example, gas lights gave way to arc lights, which gave way to incandescents, which yielded to the high-intensity discharge lamps we have lining our streets today.  All the while, the LED has been marking time as a little red indicator light, the glowing numbers on your alarm clock or as the back light to your digital watch.  But the LED’s ability to produce more light per watt of electrical power has always intrigued scientists, engineers and businessmen. 

Years of research, experimentation and development have finally paid off.  Today, there are a wide variety of LED street and yard light fixtures that compare favorably to their high-intensity discharge counterparts in almost every way.  LEDs produce more light with less energy; they last longer; they require less maintenance; and they produce any color or softness of light that you desire with less extraneous light or light pollution.  In short, they are the future of municipal street lighting.

This fact leads us to another story…

The year was 2011.  The town of Ouray, Colorado, had heard that a new type of streetlight could cut their lighting energy use in half, while protecting residents’ view of the night sky. They began looking for ways to overcome the LED’s one drawback:  a high up-front cost.  Through partnerships with leading LED manufacturer, Cree®, the Governor’s Energy Office, Tri-State Generation and Transmission (Tri-State), and their local electric cooperative, San Miguel Power Association (That’s us!), Ouray replaced all 101 of their old Mercury Vapor lamps with Cree® LEDway streetlights.  They had made history as the first city in Colorado to install all LED streetlights, and have been enjoying the benefits ever since.

By 2015, the LED streetlight had not only come down in price, but had continued to improve its performance.  San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) Key Accounts Executive, Paul Hora stated, “LEDs have really come a long way in the industry.  They have reached the point of emitting 100 Lumens or more per Watt,” (as compared to the Mercury Vapor’s 60 – 75 Lumens per Watt).  After the success of the Ouray project, other towns in the SMPA territory began to show interest.

In response to requests from the towns of Nucla, Naturita and Norwood, SMPA went to work building a program through which these communities could access the savings and benefits of LED street lighting.  “We selected a good lamp from a reputable company that would meet a variety of needs,” said Hora.  “It’s essentially a barn / area / rural roadway light that is easy to install and maintain; it emits an amount of light that is comparable to the lights it is replacing and it allows us to take advantage of rebates offered by our power wholesaler, Tri-State.”

With the new program in place, the goal was to complete installation by the end of the year.  “That was a real challenge,” said Hora, who began his employment at SMPA in September.  “We had to pilot some lights; we had to get financing in place; we had to get approval from the town boards.  Then we had to order the lights, and do a one-for-one swap-out of all the old fixtures.”

Now, the year is 2016.  And something is different in the Western Colorado towns of Nucla, Naturita and Norwood.  It’s strange to think that an accidental discovery in a lab in England over a hundred years ago could have sparked the change.  But when one considers the curiosity, the ingenuity, the perseverance, the vision, and the energy of the people involved.  It should come as no surprise that every light that shines down on the streets of these towns is now an LED light.  This will help them save thousands of dollars in energy costs over the lifetime of the lights.  And after a pause to reflect upon this, one is left with only one question:  “Who’s next?” 

1/4/16: New Beginnings 
The Executive Search and Questions for SMPA’s Interim General Manager

The new year is a time to set new goals and follow new directions.  With the retirement of our General Manager, Kevin Ritter, San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) is doubly engaged with these tasks.  SMPA’s Attorney, Jim Link is serving as Interim General Manager, and is responsible, not only for maintaining oversight of the co-op, but also for preparing it for the next General Manager while still serving as general counsel.  Although these responsibilities are keeping him quite busy, he earnestly agreed to take a moment to answer some questions about the executive search process that will lead to our next General Manager and the new direction for our cooperative.

EnergyWise:  Thank you for taking time to answer our questions.
Jim Link: Absolutely.  Communication with our members is vital, especially during times of transition.

EnergyWise:  Indeed, and during this transition, you’ll be playing a pretty significant role.  Can you explain exactly what you are planning to do and what qualifications you have?
Jim Link: You bet.  As you stated, my main responsibility will be to provide oversight and direction for SMPA while the Executive Search proceeds.  I will connect the Board, the Employees and the Members.  I’ll also help the SMPA Staff do some housecleaning so that the new General Manager can start fresh.  As for my qualifications, I suppose my best one is the fact that I’ve done it before.  I served as the interim General Manager back in 2007, before Kevin came on.  Also, as SMPA’s counsel since 1994, I’m also very familiar with SMPA’s operations and current issues.

EnergyWise:  What method is the Board using to find the next General Manager?
Jim Link: The Board has retained the services of Langley and Associates, an executive search firm experienced in placing senior executives in positions very similar to this one.  They’ve already helped the Board design the position guide and job posting.  They’ll continue to serve in the search and vetting of candidates and as consultant as the Board moves through the search and interviews.

EnergyWise:  Is the Board looking to promote someone from SMPA or are they searching for someone outside the organization?
Jim Link:  The Board is considering both internal and external candidates.

EnergyWise:  What’s the timeline?
Jim Link: Back in October, Langley and Associates put forth a plan that lasted six months.  With two months down, that would put a hire date at around May of 2016, but there are no guarantees.  If the Board requires more time to find someone who is a good fit, they’ll take it.  This decision is far too important to rush just to make a projected timeline.

EnergyWise:  There have been questions in the community concerning the next General Manager’s attitude concerning renewable energy.  Can you address that?
Jim Link:  With SMPA’s net metering program, five separate renewable projects, including the Paradox solar array, which is still the single largest community-owned solar array in the country, as well as a host of renewable energy rebates, this cooperative has established a reputation as being a leader in the field of renewable energy.  The Board is proud of that legacy.  I expect that they would want the new General Manager to keep moving in that direction. 

EnergyWise:  Doesn’t Tri-State, the SMPA wholesaler limit the amount of local renewables SMPA can have on its system?  How will a new General Manager balance the desire to expand renewables with the relationship between SMPA and Tri-State?
Jim Link:  That’s a good question.  Unfortunately, the answer is not simple.  Tri-State has provided decades of reliable service to SMPA and its ability to continue this service depends, to a large degree, upon commitments by its member cooperatives. 
However, changes in technology, material costs, the federal and state regulatory environments, and Tri-State’s own governance are constantly impacting the landscape.  Most recently, a ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has introduced a new twist on how locally generated renewable energy is connected to the grid and the price paid for that energy.  Just as our current employees, the new General Manager of SMPA will have to be well-versed, and well-qualified to serve as the Board’s eyes and ears regarding this matter.

EnergyWise:  Currently, SMPA has offices in Nucla and Ridgway.  Do you think a new General Manager might change that configuration?
Jim Link:  The Board has directed prior General Managers and me to maintain offices in both locations.  Until the Board decides otherwise, that’s how it will be. 

EnergyWise:  What effect might the new General Manager have on the electric rates and/or the access charge that our members currently pay?
Jim Link:  Again, the ultimate decisions with regard to electric rates will be made by the Board, but the General Manager and SMPA’s Staff will work to give the Board the best information possible on which to base their decision.  We are currently conducting a rate study that will assist in this determination.

EnergyWise:  There is a great need for affordable, reliable high-speed internet service in our communities.  Many look to SMPA as a possible part of the solution.  How would the next General Manager address this issue?
Jim Link:  This issue is so current that progress will not wait for the next General Manager.  While the Board has clearly stated that it does not intend to get into the business of internet service, it is not blind to the need.  In the next few months, SMPA will be supporting local governmental groups across our area in their efforts to move this service forward.

EnergyWise:  Once again, thank you, Jim for taking the time to answer our questions.  We wish you the best as you chart the course for this transitional period.
Jim Link:  Thank you.  Back to work!

11/11/15: LED Streetlights to Shine in Nucla, Naturita & Norwood

The towns of Norwood, Nucla, & Naturita, have been working with San Miguel Power on a lighting retrofit project for some time now.  The relighting effort will involve switching out old light fixtures around town with a new Light Emitting Diode (LED)   technology.  The project will greatly benefit San Miguel Power and each community through energy savings, decreased operations and maintenance cost, improved light quality and aesthetics. 

The replacement fixtures, or “luminaries” as they are called in the industry, use Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology to produce a much higher lumen output per watt of energy input making them more cost effective to operate.  This will save each town a significant amount of money on their monthly electric bill.   A secondary benefit of the fixtures is the longer life span.  LED fixtures require fewer maintenance calls and they last up to twenty years in some cases.  “The light is robust and minimalistic in design” says Paul Hora, Key Accounts Executive for San Miguel Power.  “They are perfect for outdoor applications and work extremely well in the kinds of conditions we see in these areas.”   

The old fixtures currently in each town utilize lamps which are relatively inefficient and, in some cases, discontinued.  Many utility service providers are transitioning to LEDs due to the better light quality and savings on the power consumption.  These lights are directional in nature which means the light goes down to the ground where it’s needed and does not “trespass” as much into the sky or nearby windows.   This means you see more stars at night due to less upward light.

These slightly smaller fixtures are a direct retrofit for our existing fixtures.  They are more appealing and give off a more natural light.

We will be retrofitting close to 200 fixtures in the three towns.  This will include downtown fixtures as well as most of the side streets and intersections.  The materials will be ordered before the end of the year to take advantage of a rebates that SMPA offers through its power provider Tri-State which will reduce the initial cost to each town by 25%.  Once the project is completed, the towns will be saving more than $12,800/year combined.   This savings will pay back the project cost within four years.  After the project costs are covered the towns will go on saving each month on the utility bill indefinitely into the future.   SMPA will continue this program and plans to switch out all of the outdoor lighting that it owns and maintains throughout the entire service territory to more efficient LEDS in the near future.

“This is a win/win situation for SMPA and the communities we serve” says Hora “it’s a great step forward in reducing future utility bills for our members.  This project saves energy by utilizing the best technology available, which is something SMPA is committed to doing for the benefit of our membership. If you have questions about this project please contact Paul Hora at San Miguel Power 970-708-8619

08/25/15: SMPA & CoBank Inject $20,000 into Communities for Economic Development

Town of Silverton, Telluride Foundation and West End Economic Development Corp. (WEEDC) receive donations

Representatives of three organizations, the Town of Silverton, the Telluride Foundation and the West End Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC) were all smiles at last week’s San Miguel Power Association board meeting.  Each organization appeared in order to receive their respective donation checks from the Montrose Community Foundation which distributed funds donated by San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) and matched by COBANK through it’s “Sharing Success” program.  “We are excited to be able to provide this funding for these worthy causes throughout our service area,” said SMPA Board President, Rube Felicelli.  “…and we are grateful to our partner, COBANK for matching our investment in these unique and vibrant communities.”  The recipients were selected by the SMPA Board of Directors based upon their potential value as drivers of economic development in their respective communities.

The Blair Street Historic District Association, in partnership with the Town of Silverton, has been working hard to celebrate the historic, mining, railroad, and “old west” atmosphere on Notorious Blair Street.  They have purchased and installed red lights for the Christmas holidays, hosted the Antique Truck and Car Show, the Skijoring event, the Mile High Jeep Rally, the Ferrari Rally, designed and have made many improvements to Columbine Park, and welcomed six new businesses. 

Now, they seek to install a rustic band shell in Columbine Park in Silverton.  This structure will serve as a venue for various community gatherings including educational presentations, musical entertainment, theatrical plays, farmer’s markets, arts, crafts, dance, etc.  Last week, the Historic Association President, Mike Geryak accepted $5000 for the construction of this building.

Another $5000 check was presented to Paul Major, President and CEO of the Telluride Foundation.  Recognized nationally as the fourth most active grant maker in the country, this foundation supplies the entire region, stretching from Ouray to the Paradox Basin with the resources necessary to improve quality of life and meet economic challenges.

The Telluride Foundation’s Paradox Basin Business Technical Assistance Initiative seeks to support businesses in San Miguel, Montrose, Dolores and Montezuma counties, through focused technical assistance, which can lead to new investments in both the financial and human capital of the region.

Finally, a $10,000 check was presented to Dianna Reams, Director of the West End Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC) to support their community kitchen project.  The 219 square foot community kitchen will be situated on the main floor of a two story, mixed use business facility, where office space will be rented to local small business owners and entrepreneurs.  The kitchen will include such amenities as a commercial range, gas convection oven, reach-in refrigeration and freezer, commercial loading access, classroom space and ADA compliance.

The goals of the Community Kitchen closely align with the goals of the SMPA/CoBank grant:  1) It aims to maintain and strengthen existing businesses. 2) It will provide opportunities for local food producers to develop and grow their businesses. And 3) it will build collaboration between WEEDC membership, the communities and local government.

As a member-owned cooperative, SMPA holds the concept of “Care for Community” as one of its core principles.  Whether it is through corporate donations, in-kind donations, or board-allocated grants like the ones celebrated at last week’s board meeting, SMPA actively seeks opportunities to help bolster the communities it serves.

The effect of SMPA’s contribution was doubled thanks to a matching contribution from CoBank, a national cooperative bank serving vital industries like SMPA.  Through their “Sharing Success” program, CoBank committed $3 million in 2015 to match customer donations to non-profit organizations in their communities.  “It’s nice to see some of that funding come to our communities,” said SMPA General Manager, Kevin Ritter. “Cooperation is what built these communities, and I like to see that it is cooperation that is sustaining them.”


03/09/15: SMPA Returning $1,721,479 in Member Dividends

For the third consecutive year San Miguel Power Association, Inc., (SMPA) will be paying out member dividends also known as capital credits.  We will be paying back a total of $1,721,479 this year to our members from the years 1986, 1987, and part of 1988 and 1999.  This consists of $1,000,000 of SMPA budgeted funds for a regular dividend payment, $500,000 of a special dividend payment from unclaimed member dividends from previous years, and $221,479 is a pass through directly from our power supplier Tri-State for their dividend payment to SMPA.  Checks will be mailed to the addresses on file at the co-op next month. Dividends less than $10 will be placed in a hold account for the member and paid in the future when the balance reaches a total greater than $10.


SMPA is a member-owned rural electric cooperative, which means that those who receive electric service from the co-op own a portion of the business. This entitles them to a portion of the co-op’s margins or profits.


“Member Dividends or Capital credits are essential to the cooperative business model. They represent our members’ ownership in the co-op and set us apart from for-profit, investor owned businesses,” said SMPA General Manager Kevin Ritter.


Annually, San Miguel Power allocates excess profits, called margins, to its members based upon how much they were billed that year. The money a member pays to the co-op is considered his or her capital investment. The larger that investment is, the larger the allocation, and eventually, the larger the dividend when it is paid out.


SMPA allocates member dividends each year, but only pays, or retires, those dividends back to members on a delayed rotation when the co-op’s financial position allows them to do so. SMPA returned member dividends for the first time in the spring of 2013 after a 13-year delay. In that delay period the credits functioned as operating capital and were used to make improvements and expansions to the co-op’s distribution grid. They also served to improve the co-op equity position and financial ratios.  Each year, SMPA’s board evaluates the co-op’s ability to return member dividends to the membership.


San Miguel Power Association, Inc. is a member-owned, locally-controlled rural electric cooperative with offices in Nucla and Ridgway, Colo. It is the mission of San Miguel Power Association to demonstrate corporate responsibility and community service while providing our members safe, reliable, cost effective and environmentally responsible electrical service. SMPA serves approximately 9,600 members and 14,000 meters and supports local communities with $326,000 annually in property taxes and $400,000 in energy efficiency and renewable energy rebates. San Miguel Power is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

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